Stephen Harding discusses the opportunities and challenges for materials management
The materials management industry ensures that products, no matter the size, weight or composition, make it safely through the processing flow, and it plays a key role in sectors ranging from chemicals to food production. However, social and political factors are changing the game for materials management companies.
In under 20 years, the 21st century has already presented industry with an unprecedented number of disruptions. From rapidly changing consumer behaviours to a new sense of eco-awareness, cultural shifts have presented materials management companies with new challenges and customer demands.
These cultural developments, when combined with the political change and subsequent upheavals in trade markets of recent events such as Brexit, impact materials management specialists of all sizes. This means that even smaller companies in the sector must operate with sensible consideration of global changes, while remaining responsive to the changing demands of customers.
Companies such as Gough Engineering know how flexible they must be in adapting their equipment to meet the different needs of customers looking to transport raw materials and ingredients that are being processed. In one factory, the firm’s conveying equipment could be used to transport high-value pet food for the growing Japanese market, while in another plant its equipment could be moving de-icing chemicals for the Finnish market.
Although this may prove to be a challenge for some companies, it is important that materials management specialists offer a range of conveying equipment that is adaptable to their customer’s needs. This will allow them to take advantage of the opportunities offered to them by this diverse range of sectors. For example, for dry and fragile items, plant managers should use pendulum type bucket elevators, a gentle and controlled way of moving these items across the plant.
Change without borders
Cultural changes also have an impact on the sectors that are most active in looking for materials management equipment. With the global on-the-go breakfast market set to increase by 46% by 2026, for example, cereal companies are reassessing their products. Cereal bars, rather than individual cereal grains, are increasingly being produced. This requires a different approach to handling across the factory.
The cultural and environmental pressures to increase recycling have also led to increased demand from this sector. The waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) directive specifies how companies must safely and responsibly dispose of their electronic equipment to avoid damaging the environment with hazardous content.
Electrical waste is processed through complex procedures to remove hazardous waste and recover high value items. Using mechanical and thermal separation, items such as printed circuit boards (PCBs) are sorted. Wires are disentangled and high value metals
are segregated and recovered. However, this whole process is only made possible by accurate and reliable sorting equipment.
The increasing awareness and concerns over potential allergens such as gluten or nuts in foods means consumers are increasingly demanding higher standards of cleanliness from food manufacturers. Businesses therefore have a renewed focus on actively avoiding cross-contamination in food and beverage plants. For those that supply to this industry, this means they must supply products that allow the manufacturers to ensure food safety and provide allergen-free products for their customers.
For example, conveying belts can produce a build-up of bacteria on the side of the conveyor if they are difficult to clean. This will cause a safety risk if it comes into contact with the food. Additionally, if different products are produced on the same production line, the conveyor must be thoroughly cleaned between runs to avoid contamination.
Gough Engineering produces the Easy Clean conveyor, which has a removable belt, allowing the conveyor to be quickly disassembled and cleaned. It also features a tubular design rather than a solid plate, which reduces the amount of surfaces and crevices that need to be cleaned.
Not only are cultural changes currently affecting the industry, political ones are also. With the Brexit negotiations underway, British companies face uncertainty about how trade deals will affect their dealings with European neighbours. However, currency fluctuations have meant that the pound is now much more favourable to European customers, which materials management companies can take advantage of. To ensure continued success, companies in the sector must focus on their existing markets worldwide as well as exploring new ones.
Gough Engineering has recently invested in producing all of its injected moulded buckets in the UK. The buckets were previously made in the USA, but investment in the UK allowed the company to focus on the latest injection moulding technology. It also secured the manufacturing of the high-quality buckets for the firm’s range of bucket conveyors for the future.
For many companies in the materials management sector, the large and changing variety of sectors requiring materials handling equipment provides new opportunities and hope. As a small business based in the heart of the UK, Gough Engineering does not have the power to influence political decisions, but it can work to meet the needs of its customers.
By continuing to invest in different techniques and engineering technology, experienced companies in the materials management sector can continue to offer new and innovative ways of transporting goods around the plant and factory, no matter what companies require.
Stephen Harding is managing director of Gough Engineering